Let’s not cloud the facts. Real Madrid were reigning champions and were the bookies favourites to win. Real Madrid have the players, the money and the power to regularly contend for the champions league final. Liverpool on the other hand were coming from a lower base, albeit one where they were lighting up the premier league with some electric football. Despite being underdogs, they were fancied by many in the football world, as over 160 million viewers waited in anticipation of a cliff-hanger.
Great athletes inspire. Kids make them their idols and dream of one day emulating them while adults thrill at the sight of watching the very best. Lesser athletes, through lack of ability may never become as good as the champions, but they strive to improve themselves copying their behaviours or what they know of them.
There is a group often overlooked however. Only a certain volume can make it to the elite, but there is a wide layer hovering below the line that are almost as talented (sometimes even more so) that we never hear of. These, we know generally as the “nearly men” – The ones equally talented growing up but fail to reach their potential and end up in the lower leagues.
So what is it about those that make it as opposed to those that don’t just quite get there?
A golfer puts the ball on the tee, scans the terrain and consciously makes a statement to self – “keep it away from the water”.
Research has shown an interesting thing about the way golfers often make the exact error they are specifically trying to avoid. When a golfer places the ball on the tee, he would often tell himself to aim in a certain direction while being conscious not to miss either left or right due to water hazards or bunkers. In a non-pressurised situation, a skilled golfer would invariably succeed in executing what they wanted to do with the ball.
I often get asked about how to get the most out of a group of players – from fitness, mental or tactical perspective. Some might ask about technical things such as various aspects of fitness or game plans while others might get frustrated about their players putting in sub-maximal effort. Many wonder what they should say to their players to get them to mentally “peak”.
The truth in fact is that most often, you don’t need to say anything at all – or indeed what you say is often of little importance in comparison to how you say it or how players feel treated in general.
As a practicing performance psychologist, I often get asked about how best it is to motivate a group. My answer often starts with a question or two!
“How do you relate to the players? What is it the group dynamic like? Does the management foster a positive social dynamic? Players most often play because they enjoy the sport. They turn up because they enjoy the sport and the challenge it presents.
They turn off it very often due to a poor relational or social dynamic – often fostered by inadequate managerial skills or through weak management facilitating or allowing a vacuum for dissent, player cliques or player unrest.
Stuart Lancaster is considered to have one of the best rugby coaching minds in the world. He has huge experience at the top level of professional rugby and has been involved in numerous successful teams.
He began his coaching career while working as a PE teacher in Kettlethorpe High School in England. The nature of a PE teaching role just naturally draws you into coaching through extra-curricular sports teams. He had plenty of success as a coach across a variety of sports including soccer and cricket at school’s level as well as rugby, the sport for which he became best known.
Sport psychology is often used as a support within a high-performance sporting structure. As its benefits and merits are ever more recognised and respected, some amateur clubs are on the lookout for ways in which they can use such support – often in an ad-hoc capacity. With little knowledge, many are unsure where to go or who to look for to provide such a service.
In fairness, there is very little regulation of the area presently and it is a little bit of a minefield in finding someone that can add value to your team or organisation.
Recently I was presented with the challenge of addressing a group of parents and teachers of a cluster of schools in a midlands town – primary and secondary around the whole area of mental health and young people. This prompted me to investigate some of the major issues driving the growth in incidence of youth mental health issues.
We have come to know the current Dublin football team as one of the greatest GAA teams of all time. They have overtaken Mick O'Dwyer's Kerry team of the 70's and 80's having just annexed the first 5 in a row of All-Ireland inter-county senior football titles.
They are obviously a very talented group, but there was always a talented group available in Dublin. They just sometimes never realised their potential. Marshalled by Jim Gavin, this article takes a deeper look at the psychology behind their success.
Performance psychologist - accredited with Irish Institute of Sport